When someone talks about growing Darwinia plants, your first reaction may be: “what is a Darwinia plant?” Plants of the genus Darwinia are native to Australia and very drought-tolerant after establishment. Some 20 to 37 different species exist, but few are well known or cultivated very much in the United States. That being said, as gardeners look for waterwise flowering plants for the backyard, more and more are turning to Darwinia plants.
What is a Darwinia Plant?
Darwinia plants are evergreen, somewhat scrubby bushes that are only found in the wild in western Australia. Two types exist, distinguishable by the Darwinia flowers. One group offers spectacular, bell-shaped flowers while the other grows smaller flowers and is known as the rose-type Darwinia. Popular Darwinia hookeriana shrubs grow to about 3 feet (1 m.) tall with small, terminal flowers surrounded by brilliant, red bracts that make the plant attractive. Bracts can appear six months before the flowers in generous numbers. You might find 250 bracts on a single plant! Darwinia flowers are wonderful for cutting and look great in an indoor bouquet. They also dry nicely. Just cut the Darwinia flowers and hang them in a cool, dark area to dry.
Darwinia Growing Conditions
If you are interested in growing Darwinia, you’ll be happy to hear that Darwinia care is not difficult. Since these perennial shrubs are native to the southernmost regions of Australia, zones 9 and higher would be suitable for growing them here in the U.S., though with adequate protection, Darwinia should be fine in zones 8 and 8b as well. Plant Darwinia in an open, airy location. In order for these plants to thrive, Darwinia growing conditions must include cool soil for their roots to grow in. Use an ample layer of mulch to keep the root zone cool. Darwinia care includes generous irrigation through the first summer after planting. After that, stop offering water. Many gardeners forget that Darwinia growing conditions must be on the dry side and kill the plants by overwatering. Darwinia flowers won’t be happy in damp, dank conditions. If you are growing Darwinia in soil that is too wet, the plants can die or suffer from powdery mildew. Darwinias can get scrubby, so Darwinia care should also include an annual pruning. Trimming Darwinias every year helps keep them compact and nicely shaped. Prune just after flowering, in late spring or early summer. An additional advantage is that, with reduced foliage, the plants require less water.
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Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.
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